Bill Kirchen, Brinsley Schwarz, Christie McWilson, Dave Edmunds, Elvis Costello, Esther Rose, Kippington Lodge, Little Village, Los Straightjackets, Martin Belmont, Nick Lowe, Paul Carrack, Rick Shea, Rockpile, Ron Sexsmith, Wilco
Nick Lowe definitely likes having a crew to hang with. His many solo records often feature the same names popping up again and again, some from former bands like Brinsley Schwarz and Rockpile, or just people he’s picked up along the way like Paul Carrack and Bill Kirchen. Now if only we could bring them all together in a huge Nick Lowe ‘abominable showmen’ revue … What a show that would be! Well, given the present pandemic state-of-the-world and myriad contractual conflicts and obligations that such an undertaking might bring up, my dream show seems unlikely. But nothing is stopping us from showcasing all that talent right here.
We kick off the show with Nick, of course. He’s got a fantastic new single, a cover of Garnet Mimms and the Enchanters’ 1963 tune, “A Quiet Place.” It’s another example of Nick’s amazing ability to breathe new life into rare oldies, backed once again by his recent stellar backers, Los Straightjackets. Compared to the original, Nick takes the song out of its original Sam Cooke-soul register, pushing a more Arthur Alexander country-soul feel. It’s a delightfully mellow and melodic rendition, highlighting Lowe’s masterly of the ‘roll’ side of rock and roll.
Career-wise, it’s clear that Nick’s a joiner. He’d just got a look in on the pop psychedelia of Kippington Lodge and wrote their only decent single of original material, “I Can See Her Face,” before the band morphed into Brinsley Schwarz. Fairly quickly, Lowe became their main singer and songwriter. But listen to their cover of The Hollies “Now’s the Time” from 1974’s New Favourites of Brinsely Schwarz to hear him working closely on the vocals with Ian Gomm, the band’s other main singer/songwriter (who famously cowrote Nick’s biggest solo hit, “Cruel to be Kind”). Nick’s next band was Rockpile, a group that recorded either one or six albums, depending on how you count them. Basically, contractual difficulties meant that most ‘Rockpile’ albums were credited to either Lowe or Dave Edmunds as solo artists with only 1980’s Seconds of Pleasure an official release. From the 1976 Edmunds release Get It Nick and Dave nail an updated 1960s-meets-new wave sound on “Here Comes the Weekend,” a song they co-wrote. Nick’s last stab at joining a group involved John Hiatt and Ry Cooder in the ill-fated Little Village project. The high hopes for a band with this combined talent failed to materialize, record-sales-wise. Too bad – Nick’s “Take Another Look” definitely showcases the band’s considerable talents.
Outside of joining bands, Nick loves duets and guest appearances. He’s played on countless records by other people and they’ve returned the favour. He produced, performed on, and co-wrote a number of songs for Paul Carrack’s super solo album, Suburban Voodoo and Paul appeared in Nick’s backing band throughout most of the 1980s. I love their duet on “Wish You Were Here” from Nick’s 1983 record The Abominable Showman. Another artist Nick has spent a lot of time with over the years is Elvis Costello, producing his first five albums and one more later on. The two do a lovely cover of The Shirelles/Beatles song “Baby It’s You.” Old Brinsley Schwarz friends like guitar player Martin Belmont also reappear on Nick’s solo records. In return, Nick does the vocals on a somewhat different version of “A Man in Love” (a song from Nick’s 2007 At My Age record) on Belmont’s 2009 album, The Guest List. And then there’s people like Bill Kirchen, former member of Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen and early Americana performer. His collaborations with Nick stretch from the 1970s to the present. “Shelly’s Winter Love” is a trio performance featuring Kirchen, Lowe and Carrack on vocals. The title sounds like classic Nick wordplay but it’s actually a cover of a Merle Haggard song from 1971.
Our show will need opening acts, of course, and here’s a chance to showcase artists that may not have worked with Nick officially but have either joined him live or delivered great covers of his songs. Two Nick Lowe tribute albums give us some direction here. Christie McWilson and Rick Shea offer up a lovely country-fied performance of “Never Been in Love” from 2005’s Lowe Profile: A Tribute to Nick Lowe while Ron Sexsmith puts his distinctive stamp on “Where’s My Everything” from the 2012 collection, Lowe Country: The Songs of Nick Lowe. Of course, if we’re aiming big, we could try to get Wilco to show with their 2011 take on Nick’s “I Love My Label.” More recently Esther Rose offers up an inspired reworking of one of Nick’s more recent songs, “Blue on Blue” from his 2019 EP Love Starvation/Trombone. Of course, if such an event as this could be pulled off the most appropriate opening act would be Los Straightjackets. Their 2017 album of guitar instrumental versions of choice cuts from Lowe’s catalogue, (What’s So Funny About) Peace, Love and Understanding, is outa-sight.
I got to see Nick Lowe live in each of the past three decades, on the Impossible Bird tour, playing solo with Geraint Watkins, and more recently with Los Straightjackets, and every time was special. My ‘abominable showmen’ review is unlikely to ever ‘tread the boards’ as Nick might say, but I’ll always have the records and the memories of those great shows. In the meantime, visit the above mentioned artists and don’t forget to drop in on Nick too.